News from backstage at the Oscars
Hello from the Oscars’ backstage press room! I’ll be your trusty guide through the evening here, where I have joined some 300 fellow journalists in a ballroom of the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel to pepper the winners with questions both insightful and inane. (The hotel, see, is adjacent to the Kodak Theater, though how winners make their way back to us remains one of the most enduring mysteries of the Academy Awards.) Oh, and by the way: All times here are Pacific — the show’s happening on the West Coast, after all. Onto the fun!
3:35 p.m. After a circuitous tour of the back hallways of the Hollywood and Highland shopping complex (home to the Kodak Theater), I’ve arrived in the press room, gone through security, plugged in my laptop, hooked into the high-speed Internet, and updated my Facebook profile. Now begins the Oscar press-room waiting game; things don’t get going back here for at least 30 minutes into the show. So, let’s check out the food!
3:55 p.m. Man, the Academy puts out a good spread (journalists have gotta eat, too). We’ve got sandwiches — ham and salami, roast beef, and chicken. We’ve got pasta — bowtie and penne. We’ve got egg rolls and dumplings, shrimp and salad, cake and cookies, cheese and vegetable plates, beef and chicken kebabs. We have all of it many, many times over. And, much to my delight, we have Coke Zero, which is usually about as impossible to find as an interview with the Coen Brothers. I’ve already polished down a chicken sandwich; onto the bow-tie pasta!
4:30 p.m. Some members of the press notice that Javier Bardem brought his mom with him to the Oscars this year; ”aww”s all around.
5:19 p.m. During (by my count) the fourth mic check, an Academy official refers us to the posted signs for the Academy Librarian’s phone number. A single number. For 300 journalists. Hope they’ve got call waiting!
5:28 p.m. The show’s about to start. This is my third time back here, but I still get butterflies at this moment.
5:35 p.m. And…we’re off! First big laugh from the press corps: Jon Stewart’s Hillary Clinton joke.
6:09 p.m. My editor points out that it appears as if the press room’s TV feed of the show doesn’t have the time delay viewers have at home. So, hey, I’ve got an eight second head start on the rest of the world!
6:11 p.m. The night’s first famous winner, Brad Bird, comes backstage. ”I just came from a room where they shot off about a million [flashes]. I can’t even see right now, so send up a flare when you’re talking so I can see you.” A few moments later, a reporter sends up said ”flare” and tells Bird his movie changed her relationship with rats. Thanks for sharing!
6:38 p.m. Tilda Swinton’s Best Supporting Actress win for Michael Clayton brings the first gasps of surprise from some in the press corps, but I have a feeling any winner in that tight category would’ve been a surprise to someone.
6:41 p.m. We’re told the winner for Best Live Action Short only speaks French, so I think I’ll use that time to bolt for the restroom — man, that second Coke Zero was a bad idea.
6:52 p.m. Here’s the unofficial transcript of the press room’s Q&A with Best Makeup winners Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald:
Q: [In French]?
A: [In French].
Q: [In French]?
A: [In French].
You get the idea, mes amis.
6:57 p.m. An hour-and-a-half in, and no major winners have made their way backstage. We’re just told that Javier Bardem was ”called back to his seat” (for what? reaction shots to that awful “That’s How You Know” number?) and will be coming back to us later.
7:00 p.m. With the press more and more focused on their pressing deadlines and cookie intake, Jon Stewart’s baby award routine catches a rare laugh.
7:02 p.m. Finally! A big winner arrives! A loose and witty Tilda Swinton’s in the house, and her first line is a winner, referencing the numbers all the writers hold up to ask a question: ”This looks like a bingo room.” Asked what she thought after her name was announced, she says she had a ”reverse Zoolander moment — I thought they called somebody else’s name…. I kind of thought Ruby Dee would win.” Her joke about George Clooney’s be-nippled Batsuit was, apparently, payback from some of his infamous practical jokes. And, yes, she’s really going to give away her Oscar, explaining that the little golden man’s stance is the same as her agent Brian Swardstrom’s always is when she tells him she’s going to do another art film.
7:12 p.m. Just as a gossip columnist begins pressing Swinton about her unconventional personal life, Marion Cotillard’s surprise win for Best Actress breaks the tension. The press gasp and Swinton celebrates: ”You see what I’m saying about Europe!”
7:36 p.m. Marion Cotillard appears in the press room, still shaking and breathless from her unexpected win. The first question is in French — a lot of Français back here this year. (In fact, the reporter points out this is the first Best Actress award to ever go to a French-speaking role.) Asked about her acting inspirations, Cotillard says she wanted to marry Peter Sellers as a kid, to several chuckles from the room. Her exuberance totally charms the press corps: ”I am totally overwhelmed with joy and sparkles and fireworks!” A few moments later, Cotillard concludes her time at the mic with an impromptu performance of the Edith Piaf song ”Padam Padam.” And even though Cotillard masterfully lip-synced to Piaf’s voice in the film — in fact, it’s one of the reasons her performance is so memorable — the Best Actress winner sounds pretty great herself!
NEXT PAGE: Diablo Cody, Javier Bardem (finally!), Daniel Day-Lewis, and Once stars Markéta Irglová and Glen Hansard come backstage
7:53 p.m. Honorary Oscar winner Robert Boyle, 98, takes almost a minute to be escorted onto the stage. Asked what he misses about show business from his era, Boyle gives a thoughtful, if grumpy-old-mannish, answer: ”I’m an absolute dummy with a computer…so I can’t speak to what’s happening today so much. But I do miss the community that we had then. People seemed to work together more in those days. They are more separate these days…. I think you have the tools now that you can do anything. Unfortunately, very often you do everything. Discipline in art is also very important. The things you don’t say are sometimes as important as what you do say. And if you do too much, you destroy the point you are trying to make.”
8:11 p.m. The Once winners come backstage. Markéta Irglová explains quite matter-of-factly that she didn’t realize the mic was cut when she went up to give her acceptance speech, but once she got backstage, she was assured she’d get a chance to say thank you. She’s so low key, it’s hard to tell if there’s more of a story there. Her professional and personal partner Glen Hansard is equally down to earth. Asked about whether he’d go back to busking (i.e. singing on the street), he answers that he was just doing that a few months ago in Barcelona: ”It’s a great way to get to know a city.”
8:22 p.m. Now that’s some refreshing, if not exactly flattering, honesty: Robert Elswit, Best Cinematography winner for There Will Be Blood, steps up to the stage just as an Academy official asks ”Are there any questions for Best Cinematography?” Elswit says under his breath, ”God, I hope not.”
8:47 p.m. The show’s over, but my job’s not. Mysteriously, Javier Bardem, Diablo Cody, Daniel Day-Lewis, and the Coen Brothers all have yet to make it back here from the Kodak Theater.
9:02 p.m. A grinning, easygoing Diablo Cody finally comes backstage, and unlike so many other winners, her answers are rapid-fire fast. No, she’s not going to name her statue anything other than ”Oscar.” No, she wouldn’t have anyone else write her life story, because no one would believe it. No, she isn’t wearing million-dollar shoes (as had been reported elsewhere) — ”if I had a million dollars, I’d help people.” No, she didn’t mean to make a statement about pregnancy when she wrote the film — ”it’s Juno’s story, hence the title.” Yes, she’s always been a writer, but no, it was only recently that she even thought about screenwriting — ”you grow up in the suburbs in the Midwest, you don’t know any screenwriters, so it just doesn’t seem like a realistic career possibility.” And no, she has no opinion about pregnant teen Jamie Lynn Spears — ”I’m not going to kick her while she’s down.” If this is coming off as negative, that’s more a result of the kinds of questions thrown at her than her demeanor, which couldn’t be more upbeat.
9:11 p.m. The Coen Brothers and Scott Rudin step to the stage blank-faced, but a reporter finally gets some words — and, even better, a broad smile — out of Ethan Coen, when she asks how Roderick Jaynes (i.e. the pseudonym the Coens take for their editing work) is taking his loss. ”He’s elderly and unhappy,” jokes the younger Coen, ”so probably not well.” Otherwise, he was predictably taciturn.
9:18 p.m. And, at long, long last, Javier Bardem, the night’s first acting winner, is one of the last folks to make it back to the press room. But — darn it! — his first, second, third, and fourth questions-and-answers are in Spanish! If the promise of Daniel Day-Lewis and his swoon-worthy eloquence weren’t looming, I’d so be out of here.
9:28 p.m. Finally, some questions for Bardem in English! (No disrespect to Spanish speakers at all. It’s just that I got Cs in Spanish class and feel helpless to report what he’s saying.) And, man, I’m glad he’s speaking in English. He’s currently unspooling some terrific praise for his fellow nominees: ”Casey Affleck, the whole journey is a piece of [pause] jewelry. Jewelry? Like every piece [was] on time in order to create a spectrum of a ghost.”
9:33 p.m. Perhaps because his role in There Will be Blood is the most richly, darkly serious in a group of five serious Best Actor nominees, most of the questions to Daniel Day-Lewis are almost determinedly light-hearted. Have you been offered a lot of complimentary milkshakes? ”I’m very much looking forward to all the milkshakes I’m going to have over the next 25 years.” What do you do for a laugh? ”The great thing about that is I don’t have to talk about it. I’m not telling!’ Oh, why not? ”Because it’s none of your f—ing business!” (He says this with a wry smile.) Are you aware how big the milkshake line has become? ”I am completely aware of it. I think it’s fantastic. I mean, if people absorb something that you’ve done, if that gets absorbed into the culture in such a way that people can make something else from it, that’s delightful to me…. We call it ”slagging” in Ireland, taking the piss in England.” Why did you kiss George Clooney on your way to the Oscar stage? ”Because George has been there for me, and he was the closest fellow nominee…. George is just so incredibly generous. He’s a great guy, really. I had to kiss someone. I kissed my wife, and in the interests in parity, I kissed him too.”
9:45 p.m. Daniel Day-Lewis has left the stage, and with that, my time here is at an end. By my count: six statues for the brothers Coen; five languages spoken (French, Spanish, German, Italian, and English); four foreign-born acting winners; three major unexpected wins (Best Actress, Best Documentary, Best Supporting Actress); two Coke Zeros consumed; and one set of tired fingers. Good night!